Tag Archives: music

my year in music

**Disclaimer: This is not a list of my favorite albums that came out in 2010. In fact, many of these albums did not come out in 2010. They did, however, enter my music library and my world this year. This was a year of old jobs, new jobs, old graduate programs, new homes; good decisions that turned out to be good decisions, good decisions that turned out to be bad decisions; more stability in some areas and more up-in-the-air-ness in others. These are the most listened to and most memory/nostalgia-inducing albums of my 2010, in no particular order.

Passion Pit, Manners
This year’s record of absurdly catchy electropop hooks has cemented its place as great road-trip-to-the-Cabin and pump-things-up-after-dinner music. Stupid, stupid, stupid catchy. Also love backup vocals from PS 22.

The Arcade Fire, The Suburbs
This one came out in 2010! I’m so hip and with it! This album doesn’t have the epic choruses that originally got me hooked on The Arcade Fire, but the more I listen to it, the more solid I realize it is.

The Head and the Heart, The Head and the Heart
Hey, this album came out in 2010 too! I have a lot to say about this album. It began when I went to visit an old lovey in Seattle this summer for a long weekend. It was a trip full of transit, fun, and girl-power adventure, but the highlight was the record-release show for The Head and the Heart at Conor Byrne in Ballard. I was floored by the three-part vocal harmonies, catchy melodies, and all-around stellar songwriting. Lyrics like “My roots are grown, but I don’t know where they are” just speak. Since that night in Ballard, I have sung along to every song on this album at the top of my lungs at least a dozen times. I haven’t liked a band as much as I like this band in a long, long time.
This album is also associated with a really strong, independent, assertive time in my year. The Seattle trip and finding this band was something I did on my own, just for me; I needed that time, and I realized I needed it, and I took it, and I was better for me and everyone else after it. When I think about it, so much of my music collection is linked to one dude or another, whether he introduced me to them or we saw them live together or we made out while listening to them or whatever. (What can I say, over the past few years I have exclusively dated dudes with excellent taste in music. It’s not what you’re like, it’s what you like, right?) But this is one of the few bands I feel like I found on my own and recognized the value of on my own. They are a damn good find, and if these new songs are any indication, their sophomore album is going to be even better: “Been talking ’bout the way things change / my family lives in a different state / and if you don’t know what to make of it / then we will not relate.” Tell me.

Freelance Whales, Weathervanes
Steph introduced me to this album shortly after we moved into our new house. I will always associate it with our first experimentations with the KitchenAid. Pretty, catchy, cheesy at times, a bit of a guilty pleasure, oh-so-very indie.

The xx, Xx
The xx opened for Hot Chip when John and I saw them at the Fox this year. I love how simple the instrumentation and vocals are, and I love Romy’s sexy voice. Great example of less being more.

Geographer, Animal Shapes
This is a legitimate 2010 album! I had heard of Geographer but never really got hooked until I heard “Kites.” Then it turned out there were weird connections with them, like my friend from school being roommates with the singer/songwriter. It’s a small city. These songs all make me bop and invent harmony parts, signs of good stuff.

Mumford & Sons, Sigh No More
This is another 2010 (in the US) album! I listened to these guys almost exclusively during my last few months at 41 Octavia. Foot-stomping goodness.

Feist, The Reminder
I know I’m really behind the times on this one, but belting out “What made you think this boy could become / the man who would make you sure he was the oooooooooooooooone, my oooooooooooone?” got me through quite a few nights this year.

Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Up from Below
Tableau: The scene shop at West Valley College, safety goggles on, router in hand, crew from The Easily Distracted Theatre alongside, finishing the set for Foresight, Up from Below playing on the stereo. And the longer I’m away from my given home, and the more I wonder what “home” means, the more I realize it is wherever I’m with you. Hippies.

Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz
I’m only good to listen to this in its entirety about once every two weeks, but it’s complex and ugly and pretty and bizarre. My favorite elements are the metallic-chains effect in “Age of Adz” that sounds like Sonic when you rev him up and, of course, the use of Auto-Tune in “Impossible Soul.”

BONUS: Sufjan Stevens, Songs for Christmas
I only bought this box set this year, but I’ve been listening to it non-stop while baking and decorating and traveling and such. The arrangements of classic hymns inspire me for my own experiments in playing Jesus music, and some of the originals (“That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!” and “Did I Make You Cry on Christmas? (Well, You Deserved It!)”, in particular), are legitimately great songs, Christmas or not. Also “The Friendly Beasts” is my second favorite Christmas song ever (second to David Bowie and Bing Crosby’s “The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth”), so bonus points for a great version of that.

Happy 2011!!


Frightened Rabbit, The Fillmore, 5.20.10

There have been a handful of concerts through the years that have really grabbed me, generally standing out in one of the following ways:

  • their sheer epic nature (e.g., Paul McCartney, Gund Arena, Cleveland, spring 2002)
  • their ability to take my conception of a band and turn it on its head (e.g., Death Cab for Cutie, Club Laga, Pittsburgh, fall 2004)
  • the intimacy of the setting (e.g., David Bazan, a living room in Berkeley, spring 2009; John Vanderslice, an empty apartment in San Francisco, summer 2009)
  • their emotional impact (e.g., Dolorean, The Quiet Storm, Pittsburgh, winter 2004; Frightened Rabbit, The Fillmore, San Francisco, CA, spring 2010)

The sometimes embarrassingly raw emotions expressed on Frightened Rabbit‘s The Midnight Organ Fight speak to me on a level that not much music can. It was in heavy rotation through a particularly tumultuous and emotional time in my life, and I feel that it characterizes all the varied emotions and reactions to a breakup in a way that is particularly authentic to my own experience. In my opinion, “Poke” is one of the most poignant and vivid breakup songs ever written, and “Backwards Walk” contains some of my favorite rhyming couplets of all time. The Winter of Mixed Drinks hasn’t grabbed be as much as just yet, but it’s solid and has gotten a lot of plays in the last months.

So, needless to say, I was excited to see the band at The Fillmore last night. The Fillmore has its critics, but I really enjoy seeing shows there. I buy into the whole epic-ness of the venue, thinking about everyone who performed there in the 60s and the legendary status it has in San Francisco music history. And even though it’s now all Live Nation-ed out, there’s still the basket of apples, the hippie guy saying, “Welcome to The Fillmore!” as you walk in, the photographs on the walls, and the free posters handed out after the show. It could be worse. The other thing is that for a lot of the bands I see at The Fillmore, it’s their first time playing a really epic venue, and they are stoked about it. When a band is that excited, it communicates to the crowd and, in my experience, makes the show fantastic. It’s really cool to be a part of that.

And even though I was excited about this show, Frightened Rabbit really exceeded my best expectations. The set wasn’t perfect by any means — there were moments of out-of-tune guitars and voices, the band didn’t sound as tight as I might have thought, and the instrumentation was much less varied than it is on the albums. But to me, that lent a sense of authenticity. Frontman Scott Hutchison was observably excited about playing The Fillmore, really gracious about being there, and the set had a certain energy I don’t experience very often at a show.

It’s also refreshing and comforting to see a band whose entire catalogue you know — the first few notes of every song give you that little, “Oh, yeah, this one!!” They played most of The Midnight Organ Fight and a lot of The Winter of Mixed Drinks. Spiced-up versions of “Backwards Walk,” “Swim Until You Can’t See Land,” and “Good Arms vs. Bad Arms” were definitely highlights. All five band members had mics, and the backup vocals were nice, even if they weren’t always spot on.

When Scott came out alone with an acoustic guitar for the encore, I knew he was going to play “Poke,” and I chuckled to myself at the predictability. He started into the song and I got goosebumps, and by the time he got to “We can change our partners, this is a progressive dance,” I was actively crying — mouth contorted into a grimace, tears streaming down cheeks. I felt like such a schmuck, standing there crying to a live acoustic version of “Poke.” Does it get any more hipster cliche?! But I couldn’t help it. After the song, Scott just stood still for a minute, and it felt like the whole room was holding its breath. Finally, he chuckled awkwardly, and said, “Wow. That was my favorite time playing that song, of all the times I’ve played it.” He chuckled again and said, “Thank you. I won’t forget this.” So it wasn’t just me — there was something in that room, there was some sort of emotional spiritual thing happening here with all these people and this music. Epic.

After that, the band came on and they played “Keep Yourself Warm,” which was surprisingly great in a different way. I would never have expected to be in a room of people all singing at the top of their lungs: “You won’t find love in a, won’t find love in a hole. It takes more than fucking someone to keep yourself warm.” But it happened, it was awesome, and after all, it’s true.

“i’m working on my faults and cracks, filling in the blanks and gaps. and when i write them out, they don’t make sense — i need you to pencil in the rest.” -frightened rabbit


Some of my favorite Mountain Goats lyrics are from the song “Tallahassee,” on the album of the same name. The part I like best in the song goes like this:

“There is no deadline; there is no schedule.
There is no plan we can fall back on.
The road this far can’t be retraced.
There is no punch line anybody can tack on.”

When I graduated from college and moved to San Francisco, one of the hardest transitions for me was learning how to function in a lifestyle that didn’t have any set end-dates, no specific schedules or timeframes. In college, and even in high school and middle school and elementary school before that, your time is divided up into neat little chunks. You go to different classes each day of the week; the semester ends after a certain number of weeks, and you switch to new classes; the year ends on a particular date and you move out of your current apartment into a new one, and you get ready for the next year. Everything has a deadline; if it sucks, you know you only have to do it for so long; if it’s awesome, you know you better enjoy it, because it won’t last.

When you enter the real world, you get a job. You go to that job, usually to an office (the same office) every day, Monday through Friday, from something like 9am to 5pm, give or take. Unless you’re on contract, there’s no end-date to that job; you’re just. . .there, for as long as you want to be there or until you get fired. You find an apartment, and you live in it; you might sign a lease for a year, but if you want to stay there indefinitely, it’s probably a possibility. For some people, this lack of confines is great; they feel free to pursue their interests and make their lives awesome, and they grow up, and they thrive.

For me, it was incredibly difficult. I didn’t know what to do with my time, how to think about the present or the future. Unintuitive as it is, I felt trapped by the lack of structure, paralyzed by all the options of what I could do, so much that I found myself not wanting to do anything. It was a big adjustment. It took me a lot of time to get used to this “new life,” and the process entailed a lot of moping.

These lyrics ran through my head a lot during my first few years in San Francisco, as I lamented the lack of deadline, schedule, and plan, the inability to retrace the steps that got me to where I was, the reality of there being no punch line to wait for.

So, after almost three-and-a-half years of working the daily grind (okay, so my job was pretty cushy, but still, you know), of bouncing around to different apartments when the time felt right, I finally adjusted to the timeframe of real life. But in the last few months, lots of things in lots of aspects of my life have taken turns very much back toward the kind of regimented schedule I tried so hard to let go of.

Right now, there very much is a deadline: A lot of people I’m close to will be relocating in the coming weeks, and the pressure to spend time with them, do the things we’ve talked about doing but never got around to, and make the most of the time we have left is palpable. And there very much is a schedule and a plan: I’ve committed to a two-year masters program at Berkeley, which means that for the first time since I moved here, I’m actually committed to staying here for a defined period of time. I’ll be going back to that academic structure of weeks and semesters and years that I used to thrive in. Beyond those two years, I won’t have to stay here, but it’ll probably be in my best interest, since the connections I’ll make through the program that will definitely be Bay Area-centric. What’s the point of making connections if you’re just going to abandon them? I’m realizing that my decisions at this juncture have larger implications than the obvious ones.

I should be careful what I wish for. I’m not finding these deadlines, schedules, and plans to be as comforting now as I remember them being before.

“There are loose ends by the score. What did I come down here for? You; you.” -The Mountain Goats

Keepin in Real in the Southern CZ.

I’m sick. Sinus-ey, post-nasal drip, stuffy head, my-nose-just-dripped-on-my-computer sick. Dammit. I guess those few nights out did me in. I don’t remember the last time I was sick.

Another long day of mostly sitting on the bus today. Had breakfast at our hotel, and then went to Austerlitz, a Napoleon-era battlefield with a cool crypt and whatnot. Then we drove back to Brno to go to the garden where Gregor Mendel grew his marigolds and peas, and then went to Lednice to see a castle that was owned by the Lichtenstein family. It was quite cool; huge, with 3 floors, lots of ornate woodwork and paintings and whatnot. It had a huge garden area outside where we walked around and saw about 17 Czech couples getting their wedding pictures taken. They like weddings in this country — we’ve seen a ton this weekend.

Ate lunch at a little restaurant before going to the castle; I had a Pilsner Urquell, a bowl of chicken soup, and a salat of cucumbers and onions and tomatoes and peppers. Quite good, and I ordered all in Czech. I’m getting better.

After the castle we headed to a wine cellar in Boretice — a little house that had a wine cellar attached. It wasn’t a restaurant, but they had dinner for us, chicken and cabbage salad and cucumbers, and then we got to try 4 different homemade wines straight from their casks. Three whites and a red — they were all quite good. It was pretty obnoxious though, because we were all in this little cellar room and everyone was being incredibly loud and disrespectful to the guy who owned the wine cellar and people wouldn’t stop talking whenever he was trying to talk to us. I felt extremely embarrassed. So far, this trip has made me really appreciate America and really hate Americans, or at least my peers who are the future of America, if you will. It wasn’t just disrespectful behavior in the wine cellar, it was a symbol for the bigger, all-around asshole-ish nature of Americans, especially Americans who go abroad. Ugh.

But anyway, we got to buy some wine before we left — it came in 1.5L plastic bottles that cost 50kc each. I got one of red and one of white — when you convert the money and break it down to how big bottles in the States usually are, I basically got 4 bottles of good, homemade wine for $4. Can’t beat it.

Tried to listen to Iron and Wine on the way back to the hotel tonight. I’m definitely not ready for that yet. I didn’t get through one song before I changed it to avoid a hysterical crying breakdown in front of 43 of my closest new friends.

I might go down to the hotel bar and see what people are up to, and make it an early night, because I feel like crap. It is raining here today, and is nice.

Weary Memory.

Listening to Illinoise. I can’t stop listening to it. At first I resented all the mainstream recognition, but they’re all right. It’s incredible.

I leave for Prague tomorrow. Well, London, then Prague. At this time tomorrow night I will be on the plane there.

I’ve been having some insane memory-moments these past few days. For some reason, being here makes me think about being at my apartment in Squirrel Hill. Weird things have been triggering these insanely vivid memories, like visceral, tangible ones. They other day I put on this deodorant that I used last year, but hadn’t used in LA, and I was instantly transported to taking a shower and putting on a tank top to get ready for a spring/summer Pittsburgh outing with Jut. And I used this conditioner in my hair that I hadn’t used all summer and it was the same — that feeling of getting ready for a night out, or in. . .just a good night, where I knew exactly what to expect and knew I would be completely happy and fulfilled. I could feel that.

I’ve been saying that I like being on-the-road for these months, to not have a place to lay my head. But it has been so nice being with Jut, and now being at home, living a normal life, not going 20 hours a day, having a bedroom and a bathroom and a kitchen that are mine to use. I know Prague is going to be different from this summer, which will be good, but I’m ready to be a real person again, with a normal existence. And I miss Jut. Like, more than I have, ever. I just keep thinking about things and thinking about life and I’m like, I want to do this — to sruggle together and be poor flippin idiots in San Francisco, to have fun and be young and in love and not know what the next step is but not care. I want that like crazy. Which is crazy.

So, here I go. My next post will be from Europe.

“California’s Been Good to Me; Hope it Don’t Fall into the Sea. . .”

I’m writing from the road — I-70 West in Utah. I made a sweet On-the-Go playlist for Tracy, Becky, Stephen and I to listen to — one thing I hadn’t realized I’d missed so much this summer is music. It has been amazing to just listen to good music while driving. There’s pretty much nothing like it. Utah is still gorgeous — amazing rock formations, puffy white clouds, open road. I hope my drive from Albuquerque to Glenwood is as nice.

So, this summer is almost over. We had a great last week. 38 kids — 6 from Denver, 13 from outside Minneapolis, and the rest from Medford, Oregon. All the Oregon groups we’ve had this summer have been really awesome — just good people, unique personalities, kind of hippies. Two of the adult leaders brewed fresh French press coffee every morning, and always saved a cup for me, so that was nice. I’m looking forward to drinking coffee other than the Costco blend, too. The group from Minnesota was probably my favorite church group of the whole summer — they totally redeemed the real jerkfaced Minnesotans we had earlier in the summer. They were just a really great group of kids; their youth pastor was hilarious and always doing crazy stuff with them.

I really connected with a girl named Samira, and we stayed up late talking pretty much every night. It was really the only meaningful interaction I had with a student, one-on-one, the whole summer. She was sixteen, struggling with many of the things 16-year-olds struggle with, but she thought about them more than most 16-year-olds do. She wasn’t a Christian (her dad was Muslim and her mom didn’t really believe anything) and she was just full of questions — from “Do you believe in evolution?” to “How do you know there is a God?” to “How do you know when God is telling you something?” to “Do you think gay people go to hell?” to “Do you believe there is a hell?” I could go on. The highlight was when I used GORP to explain the trinity to her when she asked about that. She told me on Wednesday night how she just wanted to feel God, she just wanted to cry, to be overcome with emotion and know that God was there. On Thursday, I prayed that God would just move, that He would just make Himself so evident to her that she couldn’t possibly miss it. So after footwashing, she says she wants to talk, and fires the questions away again — “How do you know when is the right time to accept Christ?” — and I realized that God was going to use me to move for her, that I was going to answer my own prayer. So, it was cool to be a part of that, and I enjoyed talking with her a lot.

Friday and Saturday were a bit stressful, trying to pack up, say goodbye to everyone, get my travel plans in order for the next few weeks. But we got on the road about noon yesterday, and drove to Richfield, Utah, to spend the night at the Luxury Inn. We will get to Denver today — our goal is to average 75 mph. We’ll stay with our Region at a nice hotel downtown tonight, and then wrap everything up at the retreat tomorrow.

Yesterday, I booked my plane ticket home from Albuquerque and reserved a rental car for Jut and I to drive around the Southwest. I’m pretty much psyched out of my mind to get down there. This summer has been really good for Jut and I; although there have been frustrations with being so out of communication, so out of context with our relationship, I feel 100% positive about it. Being away from him, meeting so many new people, has really made me realize how much I love him, how good our relationship is, how much better he is than anyone else I know or have ever known. So it will be amazing to see him, hang out for a bunch of days, listen to good music, cook good food together, hike around, drive around — do all the things we both like to do so much, and be with each other.

The question of this road trip has been, “So, will you do this again?” My first instinct is a resounding NO. Although this summer has been really great — I’ve grown a lot, have made a lot of great life-long friends, and gotten an amazing working knowledge of the strangest city I’ve ever encountered — there have been a lot of things about YouthWorks (short-term, urban youth missions in general) that I have really disagreed with. I guess it comes down to one of those situations where you have to see if the good things outweigh the bad, and I’m not sure that they do. This summer was frustrating, mostly dealing with YouthWorks chain-of-command issues, having people come to our site and try to tell us how to do things when we’d been doing them well for weeks. I also felt like YouthWorks has grown a lot in the past 2 years, and they have become more about following a schedule, doing things the way they “should” be done, instead of being flexible, caring about people, meeting their needs. It was the little details, the picky-ness, the specifics that I didn’t agree with this summer.

I was also conflicted about the kids coming out for a week and leaving feeling like they had made “such a difference” — this was a summer-long struggle for me, but really sunk in this week. In reality, they didn’t make a difference at all — if they didn’t do the work they did, someone else would have done it, and for many of our ministry sites, I felt like they had to scramble and scrounge up work for our volunteers to do, and we were more of a pain than a blessing. When a youth groups goes to a “mission trip” to a place like LA, it is more for their own benefit than the community’s, and I felt like no one was honest about that. The real reason kids go to the places they went in LA was so their eyes might be opened to another way of life that they had never seen, to be shocked and awed, to be disgusted that people like this way, while they enjoy such abundance, to inspire them so that once they have the means, they might be able to do something to make a difference. But instead, they come away feeling good about themselves, like they’ve helped so many people. That is not the point.

This is the 7th consecutive summer that YouthWorks has been an integral part of for me — that’s a long time. I complain about youth groups that have been on too many YouthWorks trips, because they have expectations of how things should or shouldn’t be. But I’m beginning to wonder if I am falling into that category — if I have taken too many YouthWorks trips and it’s time for me to go. Nadine has talked to me about being a Site Director next summer, and if I happened to be living in San Francisco by next year that could be really cool — but I think I’d probably only consider working with them again if I didn’t have a job by next summer. I think with another year of real-world experience, a YouthWorks summer might be pretty close to unbearable.

It will be nice to get this over and start thinking about Prague. I am getting excited for it — for the complete difference between that and YouthWorks, for the new city to explore, for the people to meet, and for the amazing Czech beer to drink.

I think I’m going to read to try to nap or just enjoy looking out the window. 300 miles from Denver. . .